The Captain’s Bride — Episode 06

A COUPLE of nights later, Tabitha hardly dared sleep when the household retired. She’d been afraid to tackle Margaret Entwistle on the subject of marriage, fearing she might be confined to her room.

Escaping seemed the only option and now the time had come. She needed to quit the house next morning, before even Alice stirred. She thanked her lucky stars this was the month of May and the weather had been kindly.

As dawn approached, she quickly pulled on the long-sleeved shirt and trousers, securing them with a silken rope purloined from her grandfather’s dressing gown. His old jacket felt slack across her shoulders but she felt it likely for a humble lad to be kitted out with hand-me-downs.

In her old carpet bag, Tabitha placed her bible, the precious handmade doll, and a purse containing a little money. She planned to help herself to bread, cheese and fruit from the pantry before leaving.

She’d no idea what drove her grandmother to matchmake with such disastrous results. To Tabitha, the portly clergyman was someone she could never warm to. He must find someone else to be the mother of his children.

Mission accomplished, she hurried down the driveway. Once through the gate, she breathed a sigh of relief. She had already decided to try for work as a bottle boy in an inn or, if she saw a similar residence to her grandmother’s, she might enquire if they needed extra help.

But neither option could be contemplated until she’d travelled a considerable number of miles.

Tabitha walked and walked, watching the sun climb higher in the sky. Passing through a small hamlet, she stopped at a pump to ease her thirst. Realising an old woman was watching her from across the way, she gave her a friendly wave and set off again, whistling cheerfully. She still hadn’t travelled far enough to enquire about odd jobs and didn’t allow herself to dwell upon what might happen if she was unsuccessful.

* * * *

Counting the milestones was becoming less fun now. Tabitha, almost dragging her feet, longed for somewhere to rest. Her heart seemed to skip a beat as she saw she was nearing the boundary of a village five miles from Danton, her final destination.

Seated on the grass beside the highway, she glanced up at the sound of hooves clattering on the dusty road. A rider on a black horse was cantering towards her. Her stomach lurched as she recalled her worrying dream about the dark horseman, but to her surprise, the rider was leading a second horse, a pretty chestnut.

“Whoa there, Topper!”

Tabitha shrank back as he dismounted and led both horses towards her. But remembering her boyish guise, she held her head high, trying to look as if she possessed all the confidence in the world.

“Hey up!” The man sported a beard and wore his hair in a tail, fastened behind his neck. To Tabitha’s relief, his gaze was friendly.

She got to her feet, running a hand through her hair. She’d hacked off most of it the night before, for fear of appearing too feminine. Now she nodded to the stranger, waiting for him to speak.

“Heading for the city, lad?”

“Yes, sir.” She felt satisfied with the gruffness of her tone.

“Strikes me we could do one another a favour if you ride the chestnut, young sir. What d’you think?”

Tabitha was temporarily speechless.

“Well, can you handle a horse or not?”

She hadn’t had much experience but the opportunity to reach Danton more quickly than she could on foot was too tempting to refuse.

“I can, sir. I accept your offer with thanks.”

“Joe Cullen at your service.”

Her heart pounded so fast, she almost introduced herself by her own name.

“Billy Walsh, sir,” she said. It was the first name that popped into her head.

“We’ll ride into the village, Billy, see if we can find refreshment then head for Danton. I’d as soon be there by nightfall. Let me tie that bag of yours to my saddle, then I’ll give you a leg up. Bess is a placid mare and shouldn’t give you any trouble.”

“I’m indebted to you, sir.”

“Joe to you, my young friend.”

Tabitha could barely believe her luck. Although she felt stiff-legged and awkward at first, she soon slipped into the horse’s natural rhythm and began to enjoy the ride.

Joe didn’t say much, didn’t question her about her journey and for that she felt thankful and in turn didn’t query his business.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!